Well, This Was a Disaster – True Lies (2023) Series Premiere

Nostalgia reboots of old movies are so common right now (Fatal Attraction coming imminently to Paramount+!), one can hardly blame CBS for trying to revive James Cameron’s 1994 blockbuster True Lies as a weekly spy/action series. That it would be terrible should also be no surprise, given the network’s history. The trailers certainly looked awful. Even so, that it would somehow turn out to be this atrocious is quite a feat. A travesty this bad almost has to be deliberate. Someone must have gone out of their way to make the worst TV show possible.

Does that sound like hyperbole? Perhaps, but even after setting my expectations about as low as they could possibly go, I still had a viscerally negative reaction to the new True Lies. This show simply doesn’t need to exist, and I wish it didn’t.

True Lies (2023) - Beverly D'Angelo
Title:True Lies
Episodes:1.01 – Pilot
Release Date: March 1, 2023
Watched On: CBS
Also Available On:Paramount+

The saddest part of this fiasco is that the premise of the James Cameron film (based in turn on a 1991 French comedy called La totale!) could easily lend itself to being adapted into an episodic adventure series. A seemingly average computer salesman named Harry Tasker (previously Arnold Schwarzenegger, now Steve Howey from Showtime’s Shameless and the 2001-’07 sitcom Reba) has a secret life as a James Bond-like elite government agent. While his wife Helen (Ginger Gonzaga taking over from Jamie Lee Curtis) and kids think he’s off attending boring sales conferences, Harry is actually jetting around the globe on missions to defeat terrorists and save the world. This set-up should take little effort to string into a mission-of-the-week structure. Unfortunately, little effort is exactly what seems to have been put into this.

One could make the argument that Howey is a more believable casting choice to play a spy living deep cover as a boring suburban everyman, but that entirely misses the point of why Cameron built the original film around Arnold Schwarzenegger. That the Austrian bodybuilder was laughably unconvincing as a computer salesman was the whole joke, and that aspect is completely missing here. Cameron took a silly premise and elevated it to JAMES CAMERON proportions as a rollercoaster action blockbuster. Not only is the TV version incapable of achieving anything like that, it feels like the people making it didn’t understand the concept at all.

The show very much looks and acts like the sort of low-rent movie-to-TV spinoff you’d see on network TV in the 1990s, almost as if CBS had been sitting on it for a couple decades and finally decided to dump it now. The writing is lousy and the performances from the leads are worse. Howey and Gonzaga are both hammy sitcom actors way out of their depth with this material. Beverly D’Angelo is also wasted as Harry’s boss at the top-secret Omega Sector. The action sequences are tepid, and attempts to fake exotic foreign locales actually shot in Louisiana are inept.

At every single moment of the episode, you can feel the creative staff asking, “What’s the absolute lamest way we could do this?” When somebody took a beat to think it over and come up with an even way lamer way, that’s the one they all went with.

This is dreadful. I want my 40-something minutes back.

If any good at all could have come from this mess, the suits at Disney (current owners of the 20th Century Fox catalog) might have used the excuse of a marketing tie-in to finally release Cameron’s version of True Lies on Blu-ray or 4K. Honestly, I’d take a decent-looking streaming copy at this point. Sadly, no such luck. The unwatchable standard-def transfer that streamed on Hulu recently was blurry and squished into the wrong aspect ratio. Even that appears to have been removed now, leaving an ancient non-anamorphic DVD as the highest quality edition of the film. That’s a damn tragedy.

True Lies (2023) - Ginger Gonzaga

Video & Audio

True Lies premiered this week on CBS. Despite a listing on Paramount+ that explicitly promised “Streaming Premiere March 1st,” no episodes were available to stream on that date. I even waited until after midnight on the morning of March 2nd and still found nothing. This forced me to watch via a DVR recording from Comcast, downgraded to lowly 720p resolution. All things considered, I would’ve rather streamed the episode to ensure at least 1080p quality, but my schedule was limited and I didn’t feel like waiting.

The series is broadcast in a standard 16:9 aspect ratio and has very bland, broadcast network photography. The premiere episode is staged almost exclusively in unimaginative medium- and two-shots with textbook reverse-angle-reverse coverage. Just about every scene is overlit for a maximum sense of artifice. The sets look like soundstages, the exteriors look like a studio backlot with green-screen backgrounds, and the production makes no effort to disguise any of that. For 720p, the picture I watched was acceptably sharp, though hardly notable.

Over broadcast, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was compressed to hell and back, probably the weakest audio I’ve heard in my home theater in ages.

Of course, checking a full day later, Paramount+ now finally offers the episode to stream. Does it look or sound any better there? Probably, but I have no more patience for this nonsense and am not going to waste time on the comparison. Sorry.


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